Giving Children the Gift of Nature

May 2019 – SFNPT Executive Director Don Finefrock wrote this article for the May 2019 edition of Preservation Today, the magazine of Dade Heritage Trust. Learn more about Dade Heritage Trust at

More than 18,000 school children discovered nature last year on national park field trips funded by the South Florida National Parks Trust.

The students looked for alligators in the Everglades, got muddy in Big Cypress, caught fish in Biscayne Bay and snorkeled in Dry Tortugas. Most students came for the day. A lucky few spent the night. All shared an adventure – outdoors, in nature – with a ranger guiding the way.  

The Trust has been funding national park education programs for South Florida school kids for more than 15 years. The free programs are managed by the National Park Service but funded (to a large degree) by the South Florida National Parks Trust and its donors.

That’s true of other park programs as well – the sea turtle conservation programs in Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks, for instance – and it highlights a fact of life that shapes how many of us come to know and experience our national parks.

Increasingly, the National Park Service depends on nonprofit partners to provide the extra margin of funding needed to protect and preserve America’s treasures and provide the programs that connect people to parks.

That’s true for big parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, historic sites like Mount Rushmore and Valley Forge, and national shrines like the Flight 93 National Memorial.

The national park system is enjoying record visitation – more than 318 million visitors in 2018 – but park fees and federal funds only pay for a portion of the parks’ operating costs.

Nonprofit organizations fill the gap, providing funding and volunteers to support park education programs, wildlife conservation, resource protection and restoration, ranger programs for the public, citizen science and student internships.     

The Trust and its donors provided more than $1 million last year to support South Florida’s four national parks, including $430,000 to fund park education programs. The education funding paid for program staff (mostly rangers) and student transportation to and from the parks.

In recent years, the National Park Service has relied on its nonprofit partners to do more, in good times and bad. After Hurricane Irma in September 2017, the Trust organized volunteer cleanups and provided more than $17,000 in disaster grants to park employees who lost homes and property in the storm. When the federal government closed in December 2018, the Trust and other park partners helped to keep the parks open. 

A government shutdown and a hurricane are different events, but the public response is the much the same – people want to help. Nonprofits like the Trust can channel that goodwill into effective, on-the-ground support to meet immediate needs and to fund ongoing programs like the free field trips that introduce 18,000 school kids to South Florida’s national parks each year.

By supporting national park education programs, the Trust is not just supporting the National Park Service. The Trust is investing in the future of South Florida by giving children the gift of nature. We would welcome your support.